SPaRK - Rockhopping

By Kelly Hodkinson – Head Teacher English at Erskine Park High School.

SPaRK overview

A using quality literature Shared Practice and Resource Kit (SPaRK) for English Stage 4, Years 7-8.

Resource: ‘Rockhopping’ by Trace Balla, Allen & Unwin, NSW, 2016.

Learning and teaching activities in this SPaRK are centred on outcomes and content from the NSW English K-10 Syllabus and the English Textual Concepts resource.

What is it about?

‘Rockhopping’ is a graphic novel based on the adventures of Clancy and Uncle Egg as they hike through Gariwerd (the Grampians) to find the source of the river. Along the way, they learn about the natural environment and use various survival skills such as finding shelter, staying near a landmark, and rationing food and water. Aboriginal knowledge is shared through Uncle Ray’s character and his discussions with Clancy and Uncle Egg, as well as the images and word labels. Coloured pencil sketches complement the youthful feel of the story, told from Clancy’s Point of View. This is the second book in the series of adventures of Clancy and Uncle Egg created by Trace Balla.

This text is appropriate for teaching students about Code and Convention, Narrative and Point of View. It could readily be used to teach any of the concepts to some degree. It can also be used to address cross curricular priorities and capabilities, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Intercultural understanding, Critical and creative thinking, Literacy, and Civics and citizenship.

Why is this important? Why does it matter?

Balla uses Clancy’s character as the focaliser of this story, allowing readers to explore the world from his Point of View. We see his view of the world and how he thinks through the difficult situations he finds himself in, such as being separated from his uncle for a day of the hike. It also helps us feel the emotions, excitement, fear and wonder he feels and provides a device for the adults to share knowledge and insights through Clancy’s questions, such as ‘I keep wondering how anyone can buy a patch of the planet anyway… Who’d they buy it from in the first place?’ The book enables students to learn about using Point of View effectively in their own compositions. It also allows teachers to explore the interaction of the text’s written and visual aspects through the Codes and Conventions associated with each, and to examine how they support our reading of the Narrative and enhance meaning. For example, you could explore the difference between the speech and thought bubbles and the types of language used and ideas explored in each. The many Aboriginal cultural references provide a platform to discuss the different ways our world is viewed and how our own context impacts our reading of such information as well as our own creations. Teachers can also explore the Narrative devices used to present this information and the effectiveness of these. The author’s note and acknowledgements at the end of the picture book provide insight into the work of the author and can be linked to the values and ideas she has tried to convey, such as knowing and trusting yourself.

How do I use the text to teach the textual concepts of Code and Convention, Narrative, and Point of View?

Code and Convention activity

Explain to students that the use of codes and conventions help us to make meaning in texts. Often, we don’t realise we are even interpreting meaning through the text in this way because we have learned these skills over time through our interactions with different types of texts. In this text, we are reading both the visual images and written text simultaneously. They complement each other in creating meaning but use different codes and conventions. Ask students to identify the different codes and conventions associated with meaning in this text. The table gives you examples of the types of things you could explore together. On page 75 there is a break in convention as the book breaks from the narrative to tell the reader to ‘TURN ON SIDE, READ FROM HERE UP’. This simple shift in reading the book cleverly impacts our perception of the size of the mountain being climbed. Discuss with students the effectiveness of the technique. Does breaking from the narrative voice outweigh the benefit of emphasising the enormity of the climb? Was it necessary to explain to the reader the need to change the book’s orientation (understanding)?


  • apply increasing knowledge of vocabulary, text structures and language features to understand the content of texts (ACELY1733)


  • recognise and use appropriate metalanguage in discussing a range of language forms, features and structures.

How do codes and conventions help us make meaning in texts?


Visual codes and

Elements of the text

Written codes and conventions


Coloured pencil illustrations

Native plants

Name labels

Silver banksia

Panels and framing


Time references

‘Day 1’, ‘Day 2’

Pencil drawings of people

Outlines/stick figures




‘Clancy’, ‘kid’, ‘Uncle Egg’

‘I’, ‘We’, ‘Me’

Movement lines

Body language



Narration/Internal dialogue

‘Where are you going, kid?’
‘…I head back along the wallaby track…’

Image usually accompanies sound words and has movement lines



Capitalisation for loud sounds

‘aak aak’

‘Puff puff’


Speech bubbles



Natural sounding conversation

(No speech marks used)

‘Good going, Clancy. Mind if I have a peek...? Lots of birds around’

Cloud bubbles

Internal Voice


Natural sounding thoughts – often expressing feelings or ideas

‘I hope he makes it back before dark… Be pretty scary if he didn’t’


Student choice


Student choice


Exploring the representation of Aboriginal culture activity

Aboriginal knowledge, culture and beliefs are presented in the text through elements of the Narrative, such as the characters, dialogue and events, through language choices, and the imagery used. Collate a list of the moments in the book where students are aware of Aboriginal content and what Clancy learns or thinks in each. Ask students to write a statement after each as to whether they already knew this information and whether they think Clancy influences them to interpret it a certain way. What Codes and Conventions are used to highlight the fact that Aboriginal perspectives or content are being presented? For example, the Aboriginal names of the mountains are followed by the English names in brackets on page 13; Clancy explains why he calls Ray ‘Uncle’ on page 12, providing an insight into cultural practices; and the cockatoo totem is referenced on page 17 and reappears throughout the text, supporting Clancy. Ask students to consider the purpose of the information being presented to us in each instance. What effect does it have on us? Consider this in personal terms and ask students to consider how their own context impacts their reading of Aboriginal content. Then focus on the language used by Uncle Ray. How is it different to that of Uncle Egg and Clancy? How is it the same? For example, there is a difference in the place names used but they have the same beliefs about respecting the land and nature. There are also rock climbers in the book with their own cultural accents on pages 21-24. Discuss stereotypes with students and what effect they may have in a text. Here they add an element of humour and are quickly identifiable which is helpful as they are only a small part of the story. Ask students why they are treated differently to Ray in the story. What might this tell us about the values and purpose of the author? It is also worth exploring the copyright statement at the front of the book and the author’s note and acknowledgements at the end – do they change students’ perspective on the book’s Aboriginal content at all? Students can write a personal response exploring the techniques used to present Aboriginal perspectives in the text and their effectiveness. This exploration could be deepened by inviting students to investigate Aboriginal culture at a more local level, such as by working with local Elders and Aboriginal associations to learn about totems, language and traditions (understanding, engaging personally and engaging critically).

EN4 -1A

  • consider and analyse the ways their own experience affects their responses to text


  • explore texts that include both Standard Australian English and elements of other languages, including Aboriginal English


  • critically analyse the ways experience, knowledge, values and perspectives can be represented through characters, situations and concerns in texts and how these affect responses to texts


  • understand and explain how combinations of words and images in texts are used to represent particular groups in society, and how texts position readers in relation to those groups (ACELT1628).

Point of View activities

This story is told from the point of view of Clancy. Explain to students that he is called a ‘focaliser’ in the story and he does not necessarily represent the views of the composer. Identify how we know the story is told from his point of view and then discuss how the images are presented to us from outside the story in most cases. See whether they can identify when we do see through Clancy’s eyes, for example, on page 42 when we are shown what he looks at through his magnifying glass and his drawing. There are other examples on pages 40 and 73. Next, ask students: ‘how does the use of Clancy as focaliser relate to the purpose, audience and context of the book?’ – reminding students that the composer has deliberately chosen this point of view. Explain that the focaliser constructs an attitude towards the subject matter of the book which we are invited to adopt. Ask students to complete the table provided, explaining what they believe Clancy thinks/feels about the book’s subject matter, and rating the strength of each value across the whole book. Then explore one of the values as a class. Identify ways that Clancy has shown us his view through the choice of language, language techniques, plot development and visual techniques.

What does Clancy think and feel about the topics below?

How do you know this?

Consider dialogue, events, characters, complications, imagery and visuals. Provide specific examples.

How strongly is this value represented throughout the book?

Not at all           Consistently

Personal growth and learning


0                    5                    10

Land and nature


0                    5                    10

Survival knowledge


0                    5                    10

Aboriginal culture and knowledge


0                    5                    10

Slowing down in life


0                    5                    10

Looking closely at things


0                    5                    10



0                    5                    10

Look at the way the ‘Big Emu in the sky’ is incorporated into the story on pages 68-69. What conversations does it spark in Clancy and Uncle Egg? Why do students think it has been included? In the author’s note at the end of the book, it simply states: ‘Many Aboriginal language groups throughout Australia talk of the Big Emu in the sky’. Look at some other texts regarding the Emu in the sky, such as Through our eyes - Dhinawan ‘Emu’ in the sky with Ben Flick, The Kamilaroi and Euahlayi Emu in the Sky, Literature on Aboriginal Astronomy and Related Subjects, Look up! There’s an Emu in the skyand Syllabus BITES: Aboriginal Astronomy. Ask students what they learn from these short texts and from what point of view the texts are presented. Again, link these choices to purpose, audience and context and the values that are presented. Students then create a comic strip about the Emu in the sky and write a reflection regarding their choice of point of view and what they have learned from this activity (connecting, experimenting, understanding and reflecting).


  • compare the ways that language and images are used to create character, and to influence emotions and opinions in different types of texts (ACELT1621)


  • interpret and analyse language choices, including sentence patterns, dialogue, imagery and other language features, in short stories, literary essays and plays (ACELT1767)


  • analyse how point of view is generated in visual texts by means of choices, for example gaze, angle and social distance (ACELA1764)


  • compose texts that make creative connections with, adapt or transform other texts, such as the preparation of promotional material for a film or book or a narration for a documentary


  • explore and appreciate the ways different cultural stories, icons, Aboriginal images and significant Australians are depicted in texts
  • explore the ways recurring stories, e.g. legends and fairy stories, have been written and rewritten for different contexts and media


  • discuss and explain the processes of responding and composing, identifying the personal pleasures and difficulties experienced.

Related texts

Rivertime by Trace Balla


The Kamilaroi and Euahlayi Emu in the Sky, Australian Indigenous Astronomy

Literature on Aboriginal Astronomy and Related Subjects, Emu Dreaming

Look up! There’s an Emu in the sky, Duane Hamacher

Meet Trace Balla, CBCA Reading Time

‘Rockhopping’ teaching notes, Allen & Unwin

Syllabus BITES: Aboriginal Astronomy, NSW DoE

Through our eyes – Dhinawan ‘Emu’ in the sky with Ben Flick, Local Land Services Western Region

How to cite this article – Hodkinson, K. 2017, 'SPaRK – Rockhopping by Trace Balla', Scan 36(2).

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